Turkey was the first destination we’ve hit on our trip that felt even slightly unfamiliar. The rest of Europe was comfortable- not too chaotic, similar foods, and similar looking people. Stepping off the ferry in Istanbul made me think for the first time, “Now this is when it’s going to get interesting.” To the Turkish people, we must have looked a little bit out of our element, because in those first three days, they went out of their way to help us. And not for money or to scam us as it may have seemed in the beginning, but simply for the sake of it. The people of Turkey want you to experience Turkey. Yes, some people have misaligned intentions, but those are few and far between the smiling, friendly people we encountered. While these stories are not over the top, you must put yourself in our shoes to appreciate what they meant to us. It may be trite, but it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.
Here’s a recap of the random acts of kindness that occurred.
Number 1: It took a while to get through passport control at the airport so once we arrived to the baggage carousel, there were only a few bags left. I found mine circling around, but Kris’ and Steph’s were nowhere to be found. Obviously looking a little concerned, a young man approach and said there was a pile of bags from this flight sitting over in lost and found. We found their bags easily and were happy that someone pointed it out so quickly.
Number 2: As we were spinning in circles in the arrival terminal trying to figure out which way to go to find an IstanbulKart, a man came to our rescue and told us it was at a stand, just outside.
Number 3: There’s a private bus company that shuttles people from the city to the airport and back on the cheap. It’s supposed to leave every half hour, but there seemed to be no sense of schedule going on. Steph had run inside to use the restroom and so I tried to ask the driver when the bus was leaving, not wanting to get on and leave her stranded. The driver spoke no English, but another guy, already halfway boarded in front us, overheard the breakdown in communication. He jumped back off and interpreted for us. “The bus will leave when it is full.”
Number 4: We knew what direction we needed to be going when we entered the tram stop- east toward Sultanhamet. A first tram across the tracks showed up heading west and we figured we were on the correct side. But then a few minutes later, on our side of the tracks another tram showed up heading west. Not being able to make sense of the situation, some random guy leaning up against gate asked, “Sultanhamet?” He told us this was the tram to get on and sure enough, it was. But how could know where we were going? We later learned that it’s because every foreigner is going to Sultanhamet.
Number 5: The Grand Bazaar is a huge. The shops go on forever. The streets inside the bizarre are actually named. As lunch time approached we decided to look for a kebab shop we had heard about, but the map was confusing and we had lost all sense of direction. Watching us looking this way and that, one shop owner helped to point us in the right direction.
Number 6: We learned in Thailand that Steph has a thing for dolls. As luck would have it (for Steph), there just so happened to be a doll shop at the Grand Bazaar so Kristin and Steph wandered in while I meandered around outside. Fifteen minutes later when I returned, tired of looking at the carpet and jewelry shops nearby, I find Kristin sipping some green tea that the shop owner bought for her. Apparently, she had been sniffling a little bit and the shop owner graciously offered his common cold cure.
Number 7: Some kebab hopped off the pita onto Steph’s sleeve one day. What a mess. So as she was in the bathroom washing her hands, a lady noticed the remnants of lamb and yogurt sauce and offered to help her clean up. “Madam, madam, let me help!”
Number 8: I think Steph left something at a restaurant at least four times on our trip. On the only occasion she didn’t notice, the server from the restaurant chased us down the street to return her hat to her. Good thing, because our next jaunt to Cappadocia was chilly to say the least.
Number 9: Public restrooms in Istanbul require you to pay per use, much like many places across the rest of Europe. Some have attendants to offer you change, but some don’t and require you to come prepared. As Steph walked into one, she didn’t have exact change, but the gentleman in front of her offered to give her one lyra- the entrance fee.
Number 10: Maybe not an act of kindness, but still a pretty cool system in place. We were wandering around the park in front of the Topkapi palace when a smart car with a blue and red siren pulled up towards us. I thought we may have been in a restricted area as there were guards with machine guns manning a gate not 100 meters away. Turns out it was the Istanbul Municipality Metropolitan Tourism Task Force. They handed us maps for public transport, pamphlets on Turkish baths, info on mosques, and everything tourists like us might need. With this kind of service, you don’t even need to bother finding an info center.
Number 11: We are no hookah experts, but we decided to try out what the locals do. We paid a visit to one of these shisha cafes but soon found we were in a little over our heads as we didn’t know exactly when to turn the coals. Luckily, a friendly local checked up on us every fifteen minutes or so and turned our coals when it was time.
Number 12: Walking out of a restaurant, Steph spilled her water bottle all of the restaurant floor. Any decent manager would tell the customer not to worry about it and to continue on their way. This manager did exactly that, but also offered her another bottle of water to replace what was left soaking under our table. How’s that for hospitality? The cherry on top.